McIlroy doesn't want Olympic gold and that's fine

Newstalk Sport's Daniel Kelly can understand why the Down native wont be in Brazil

McIlroy, Zika, Olympics, Golf, Rio 2016, Ireland

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

"I was thinking about all the times I have played for Ireland as a boy and everything. For me it is the right decision to play for Ireland."

Those were the words of Rory McIlroy, just over two years ago, when he announced at Fota Island during the week of the Irish Open that he had decided to represent Ireland at the 2016 Olympic Games. 

When golf was announced as an Olympic sport in 2009, players like McIlroy and Graeme McDowell found themselves in a very awkward position. If either were in a position to qualify, they would have to declare for either Ireland or Great Britain.

Both men had represented Ireland in amateur golf, but were Northern Ireland natives, and therefore British citizens. They could represent either team.

The Zika virus has cast a shadow of these Games. Athletes from many sports have cited concerns about the virus. In golf alone, both Vijay Singh and Marc Leishman have cited Zika as their reason for skipping the event.

"I've come to realize that my health and my family's health comes before anything else", McIlroy said in a statement outlining his reasons for not travelling to Brazil. "Even though the risk of infection from the Zika virus is considered low, it is a risk nonetheless and a risk I am unwilling to take."

McIlroy will be remembered for his major wins (such as the 2014 USPGA Championship) and not an Olympic triumph. Picture by: Mike Groll / AP/Press Association Images

While Zika may be stated as the reason for McIlroy's withdrawal, it needs to be asked if an Olympic gold medal is of any significance to him or many other professionals? Has the Zika situation given McIlroy an easy way out of competing?

When all of today's golfers were growing up, they would have dreamt of walking up the 18th at Augusta or St. Andrews about to win one of golf's major events, and there lies the crux of the issue. No golfer had aspirations of winning an Olympic gold medal, because it was never an option.

Irish Olympians such as Darren O'Neill, Natalya Coyle and Arthur Lanigan-O'Keeffe have had their say on McIlroy's withdrawal and none of them are pleased with the decision. O'Neill went as far to say that Team Ireland would "be better off without him".

However strong those opinions are, they need to be respected. An Olympic gold medal is the pinnacle of a career for those athletes. For McIlroy, it simply isn't.

The Olympics, should be the peak of any sport that is in the Games. When sevens rugby was introduced, along with golf in 2009, the IRB went out of their way to alter the calendar and make the Olympic Games the peak of their four-year cycle.

The golf tournament in Rio lies between the Travelers Championship and John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour. It's just another stop of golf's global circus.

McIlroy's decision paves the way for either McDowell or Padraig Harrington to get the spot. McDowell may not be best pleased with his friend putting him into an uncomfortable position, but Harrington would jump at the chance of heading to Rio.

The Dubliner was an active part of golf's admission to the Olympics. In 2009, he revealed to RTE; "being an Olympian is a big deal in Ireland, one of the greatest honours for any Irish person, and I want to be one".

His opinion of golf's place in the Olympics is different to McIlroy's, and both should be accepted. If there was a case of the Zika virus reported around Augusta next April, the Hollywood native would almost certainly compete.

The Olympics simply isn't a priority for golfers. That's not a good or bad thing. For now, it's just the way it is.